To understand the essence of Thomas Bachelder, what makes this tireless flying winemaker tick, you need look no further than his softer, poetic side.
It really was the night before the tasting, on the Saturday following Christmas Day, when each writer invited to Bachelder’s release of his 2012 tri-regional wines from Niagara, Burgundy and Oregon received a friendly and poetic reminder of the event in their in-box.
I present it here in full:
The Night before the Tasting
Twas the night before tasting and despite all the hurry
Not a creature was stirring, not even dog “Chorey”
The Stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that the wine tasters soon would be there
The glasses were polished; the bottles arranged
Now all was set up for a tasting so strange
Of three different terroirs, and all by one hand
And we’ll have them with salmon, roast beef and ham
Mary in her kerchief and I in my cap
Had just settled our heads for a long winters’ nap
While dreaming of Pinot and rich Chardonnay
And wine lovers coming from so far away
But out on the wind I thought I heard someone say
Get yourself a good rest; tomorrow’s a big day!
— With apologies to Clement C. Moore
No one could ever accuse Bachelder and his wife Mary Delaney of being boring. Tasting with them takes all your energy just to keep up with the tag-team conversation, the zingers that fly around, the geography lesson, the “Johnson” jokes, the corks a poppin’ and the feast that inevitably follows.
It’s always the same at the Bachelder home in the tidy, little village of Fenwick, when wine for review is poured. Serious wines presented in an unserious way that can devolve quickly into a three-ring circus that includes a fast-moving parade of wine, banter that travels at the speed of light and maps pinpointing the origins of the grapes; an endless barrage of finger pointing to tiny specks of terroir on a series of well-used geological surveys.
It’s exhausting, but joyful and hard not to get sucked into the frivolity of it all, even if you are there to assess some very serious juice from Niagara, Burgundy and Oregon.
Bachelder applies the same winemaking skills to each of his wines under his label: organically-sourced (some biodynamic) grapes where possible, minimal intervention, the same deft touch with similar, mostly older, oak barrels for 16 months, and all, or mostly all, grapes fermented using wild yeasts.
He takes a Burgundian approach to winemaking and has turned out single-vineyard wines as well as more regional vineyards blends to expand the portfolio.
“I use the same Burgundian techniques, which are revelatory of terroir and not of the winemakers’ whim, to make wines that taste of Niagara, of Burgundy, or Oregon, whether they come from Chardonnay or Pinot Noir,” he said a year ago during the release of the 2011 wines.
The Bachelder wines are only available at restaurants and wine stores such as Vintages in Ontario and the SAQ in Quebec. You cannot order directly from Bachelder, as per the conditions of his licence.
Availability is not exact here, but because of his reputation, Bachelder has excellent representation at both provincial monopolies.
His Aligote 2013 from Burgundy, the Marsannay Blanc ‘Clos du Roy’ 2012 and his Bachelder Niagara (regular cuvee) Pinot Noir 2012 are already gone, so I have not included them in the reviews below.
I’ll start with the Chardonnays in the order in which they were presented.
Note: A special thanks to Elena Galey-Pride for letting me use the top photo in this post (I wish I thought of that).
The Pinot Noirs
Bachelder Oregon Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley ($35, Vintages in the spring, 89 points) — Restrained, elegant nose of pretty cherry, raspberry, forest floor and spice. Lovely finesse to this Pinot on the palate with earthy-savoury red fruits, ripe tannins and energy/verve through the finish.
Bachelder Cote de Nuits Villages ‘La Montagne’ 2012, Burgundy ($45, SAQ has purchased some of the production, 91 points) — This has a beautiful nose of cassis, cherry, foraged mushrooms, toasty vanilla and spice. The small berries and cran-cherry notes are intense and persistent on the palate and there is structure and texture to this Pinot. Best to age for a few years.
Bachelder Johnson Vineyard Oregon Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley ($55, 92 points) — Bachelder loves the Johnson Vineyard, and for good reason — it is consistent from vintage to vintage. The aromas show rich, black cherry, violets, mineral notes, baking spices, and lavender. The wild red berries on the palate are persistent and mouth-filling with rich, integrated spices and delivered on a long, long finish. Beautiful Pinot.
Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Niagara Pinot Noir 2012 ($45, April or May at Vintages, 93 points) — One of the finest vineyards in Niagara for Pinot Noir, especially if you can acquire even a bit of the coveted original five rows on the property, which Bachelder does. The Lowrey Pinot is extroverted, with a ballsy nose of mulled red fruits, cassis and lavishly spiced notes. It has far-reaching depth and power on the palate with integrated cherry-cassis-raspberry fruit mated to gritty tannins and length through the finish. Showing some balance with room to integrate further. Buy, hold and wait.
Bachelder Nuits St. Georges ‘La Petite Charmotte’ 2012, Burgundy ($65, SAQ in February, 2011 vintage at Vintages in the spring, 92 points) — Wonderful nose of warm red fruits, especially fresh baked cherry pie and strawberries, with vanilla spice, shiitaki mushrooms, and a pleasant note of iron extracted from the red clay soils of the vineyard. It is textured and complex on the palate with layers of red fruits that are bolstered by rousing spice and lifted by racy acidity.
The Chardonnays (and one Pinot Blanc)
Bachelder Savigny-les-Beaune ‘Les Bas Liards’ 2012 ($38, 89 points) — The grape, Pinot Blanc, is the white clone on Pinot Noir, once widely planted in Burgundy. The nose shows vibrant stone fruit, melon and fresh apple slices. This is a bright and cheerful wine on the palate with ripe fruit and subtle spice notes with pure freshness through the finish.
Bachelder Johnson Vineyard Chardonnay Oregon 2012 ($45, 90 points) — An expressive nose of poached pear, minerals, marmalade and layers of oak spice. It has an opulent, rich feel on the palate with some weight to go with cream, pear, vanilla toast and spices. Drinking really fine right now.
Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Niagara ($45, 94 points) — Such a gorgeous nose of elegant poached pear, flinty minerality, gorgeous oak spice, vanilla toast, apple and citrus. While very young and tightly wound the fruit still shows persistence as it unfolds on the palate revealing its pear, baked apple and citrus flavours with wonderful understated spice notes through a long, glorious finish. This is a Chardonnay you can enjoy for years to come.
Thomas Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Niagara ($45, 92 points) — The Saunders Vineyard has always played a supporting role in comparison to the Wismer Vineyard, but it’s all a matter of style. There are those who disagree with me on this and prefer Saunders to Wismer in the cooler vintages, but they are wrong (just kidding there, Michael Godel!). This is a highly elegant wine, a bit closed at the moment but still imparting spiced apple, creamy vanilla and pear aromas. On the palate, look for layered fruits, stony minerality, oak spice and finesse through the finish.
Bachelder Bourgogne 2012, Burgundy ($30, Vintages Saturday, 89 points) —An inviting nose of baked apple, pear, toasted vanilla and lovely harmonious spices. The pear and apple fruit is joined by a lovely vein of citric acidity that provides freshness on the finish.